City Year proudly serves in our nation’s toughest school districts to support teachers and students in order to address the dropout crisis. They boast their tagline "Give a year, change the world" and follow it with #makebetterhappen. Their website uses these and testimonials as a call to action, seeking applicants age 17-24 with diverse backgrounds to help fulfill this mission. Their website will also tell you that as a corps member you will work long hours daily, inside and outside of the classroom. It will tell you that it is challenging and that a year of service will not only change the lives of the students you work with, but your own life too.
What City Year doesn’t tell you is how challenging a year of service with this organization can be. They do not tell you that working with students is often an unpredictable environment, and that despite the training you receive there is no “one size fits all” for every student in every situation. They do not tell you that working for a non-profit can experience sudden changes and last minute directions. That the ability to improv, go with the flow, and actively problem solve are essential qualities in a CYSA corps member. They don’t tell you that when you show up for Basic Training Academy that you may be overwhelmed by the chants and campfire culture. They don’t explicitly tell you that it is emotionally and physically draining.
Sometimes the long hours of being sassed by high school students and battling apathy is going to test your patience. Sometimes you will want to go home and cry because your students do not always have the loving, stable home life that they deserve. Sometimes you will irrationally hate your teammates. Sometimes you will hate training days and City Year as a whole. Then, one of your most challenging students will excitedly bring you their report card. An 85% in English and 4 absences for the semester? Suddenly, it all makes sense again.
As we wrap up our City Year the question being asked of us is “what do you know now that you wish you knew at the beginning of City Year?”
Truthfully, I wish I knew all of the things noted above, the things that City Year doesn’t tell you. It is likely that these are not mentioned because each City Year is unique to each person and sometimes these types of experiences are difficult to put into words. (Maybe they are afraid that no one will sign up.) - just kidding.
City Year tells you that your service will change the lives of the students you work with and your own. I didn’t fully understand that until I got here. I used to think that serving with City Year would fine tune my leadership skills, patience and develop resume attributes. It did. There’s something beautifully challenging about working on a diverse team and I have learned a lot from them. I have learned even more from the students I work with about culture, patience, social justice issues and believing in the power of young people.
City Year is a remarkable experience, but it is not for the faint of heart.
Written by: Kaitlyn Mackover, AmeriCorps Member, Roosevelt High School